Xi Jinping has presided since 2013 over a period of declining growth rates and the emergence of several great crises which have completely undermined confidence in China outside the Communist Country and fed a growing nationalist beast within. His regime, like that in Moscow, is becoming increasingly odious to western countries who feel it is one that they can no longer do business with in good faith.
There was never going to be a surprise from Beijing with the 20th Communist Party Congress opening on Sunday. What we have learned, however, is the world has inched closer again to another war with the Chinese leader committing to reuniting China with Taiwan, an island state of 23 million people. This is all coming with a tanking Chinese economy and growing tensions between Beijing and Washington DC with the Biden administration and other western countries pursuing a new and more doctrinaire policy on democratic and human rights driven by more sincere and politically aware younger electorates.
The news from Beijing in recent days despite the acclaim by business and industry leaders in Thailand for the continued rule of Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping is not good news either for the kingdom or the world.
The confrontational rhetoric and promises made by the Chinese leader in front of his audience of 1,400 Communist Party officials, inched his country closer to conflict with the United States over Taiwan while a continuation of President Xi Jinping’s disastrous economic policies which has seen China’s growth rate slide almost constantly since he took power in March 2013 while, at the same time, developing an increasingly authoritarian regime in the Communist Country, has brought a growing momentum towards both international and economic isolation which, in the last three years, has already begun to reverse decades of progress.
Respected economists discount Chinese economic data but even so, China will only grow by 2.8% in 2022
Many respected US economists have for years discounted Chinese economic data but even official data now suggests that the Chinese economy may have contracted in recent months due to the government’s insistence on the implementation of a severe lockdown regime over the COVID virus while a troubling and spreading property crisis has also hampered growth with the construction sector accounting for anywhere between 15 to 30% of China’s GDP in the past.
This can be seen for instance in Thailand’s exports to the Communist state with a 20.1% drop in exports from the kingdom to China in August and a 2.62% drop in the opening 7 months of the year even though trade between Thailand and China expanded by 7.34% suggesting an unusual rise in Chinese imports or other trade with the kingdom.
In the run-up to the Communist Party’s 20th National Congress, the publication of key economic data was suspended while in recent weeks, US banking giants in Beijing were ordered not to publish sensitive economic data on the state of China’s now deeply troubled economy.
Xi Jinping promises party elite that unification with Taiwan will happen ‘without a doubt’ but made no mention of a possible settlement with Taipei
On Sunday, in a speech to the Congress, China’s President Xi Jinping promised that reunification with Taiwan would happen ‘without a doubt’ while emphasising that he preferably sought a peaceful resolution to the standoff over the island.
At the same time, he made no mention of any basis for such an accommodation as had been the case in the past, including respect for a different culture and political system on the island of 29 million which has forged its own democratic and economic system since 1949 leaving it as one of Asia’s most successful states with a GDP per capita of $35,510 compared to $7,189 for Thailand and $10,500 in China.
Expert observers have interpreted this as meaning that China is now focused on a military takeover of what it sees as a breakaway territory, something with ramifications for the whole world and particularly for Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia.
Australian professor believes China will ultimately blockade Taiwan and that air power will be critical
There is mounting speculation ever since the unprecedented naval and military exercises carried out by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) after the historic and proactive visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the island in early August.
War games and unprecedented exercises conducted by China’s armed forces in early August simulated a blockade of the island, something feared by experts
American intelligence observing the war games noted that it appeared to simulate a blockade of Taiwan, something first mooted by 51-year-old Professor Clinton Fernandes of the University of New South Wales in Australia in October 2021 when he called for more thinking on how such a move could be counteracted by the United States and western powers.
The threat of the Chinese invasion of Taiwan or military action has been strengthened by the speech given by President Xi Jinping according to Yao-Yuan Yeh, the director of the Taiwan and East Asia Studies Programme at the University of St Thomas in Saint Paul Minnesota in the United States.
He was speaking to Bloomberg, the financial service’s publisher.
‘If Xi doesn’t really make a move, that means that he is basically lying to the party and lying to the whole country,’ he explained. ‘It seems like the Communist Party has no way to back off because Xi has created such a hostile narrative.’
It is becoming increasingly evident that Xi Jinping is similar to Russian President Vladimir Putin who for all the talk of building a new Russia, was, all along, pursuing a programme to rebuild the Soviet empire.
China’s nationalist propaganda has been ramped up since Xi took power and is anti-western in its nature
So too with Chinese President Xi Jinping who is pursuing a struggle against what he sees as western imperialism and colonial powers, a message that chimes well with Chinese propaganda networks and content which has flourished since he came to power.
Chinese President Xi Jinping may be the star attraction at Thailand’s APEC summit next month with Putin
Significantly, both Putin and Xi Jinping may be in attendance at Thailand’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Bangkok on the 18th and 19th of November although the profile of the summit is increasingly taking on a new, less constructive aspect at a time that increasingly feels like a prelude to war.
It is also now becoming increasingly clear that not only did economists and western leaders misread the long-term impact of supporting the growth of the Chinese export-led economy over the last forty years which is now being unravelled but they have also, over the last decade, failed to take seriously the rising nationalist propaganda and sentiment among the public in the world’s most populous country behind its internet firewall, a world controlled by a single leader and a seven-member politburo in Beijing.
Visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put it up to Xi after Chinese officials made dangerous threats
The crisis which unfolded in the Communist country in early August when Chinese authorities nimbly and dangerously suggested to US officials that the plane carrying Ms Pelosi, the US House of Representatives Speaker, may be the subject of military action or that the visit itself could provoke an outbreak of hostilities, something which captured the imagination of the Chinese public.
This unleashed a force and power that must be weighed carefully by western policymakers moving forward but which also increasingly points to the prospect of war under the regime and policies of President Xi Jinping who has secured an unprecedented third term in office while giving no indication, so far, at the Congress when, if ever, he may step down.
Surveys among the Chinese population suggest that 75% vehemently support efforts to reunite the mainland with Taiwan while there is strong support for either military action being used to do this as well as the use of peaceful means.
Peaceful unification with Taiwan is moving further away as Tawainese attitudes move slowly towards independence although most favour the status quo
It is also clear from recent elections and the trend of politics in Taiwan that a peaceful reunification of the island and mainland China will never be accepted by the Taiwanese population.
The overwhelming majority of Taiwan’s 23 million people wish to see the preservation of the status quo with two separate states.
It should be noted that only 5.1% of people on the island in July 2022 wanted to see an outright declaration of independence.
Only 1.3% wanted to see full reunification with Beijing with less than 10% suggesting such a course in the form of a political union with China while maintaining local government institutions.
However, the trend is moving significantly towards independence since the early 90s with over 63% of people living on the island identifying themselves as Taiwanese as opposed to Chinese while 35% favoured both identities.
Nationalist sentiment and rhetoric in China may yet be a dangerous beast for its Communist Party masters
There is concern among political observers that the Communist Party in China may have whipped up a nationalist sentiment which has become akin to a double-edged sword for the regime according to Associate Professor Jonathan Sullivan of the University of Nottingham, also speaking to Bloomberg this week.
‘It’s tricky because the party’s legitimacy is, in large part, down to its claim to represent and defend China’s interests,’ he explained to the New York-based news service in recent days.
Researchers at the National University of Singapore, in August, warned of the same threat.
‘Nationalism is a double-edged sword,’ they wrote. ‘If government policies fail to meet the demands of feverish sentiments, the anger may be diverted to target the government.’
Economic growth rates have slided while significant problems have emerged on Xi Jinping’s watch while he has drastically cut back freedoms in China
Much has been made of the period in office of President Xi Jinping who presides over an economy that the World Bank predicts will grow by only 2.8% this year, the same rate as Thailand following an 8.1% rise in 2021 after a 6.8% contraction in 2020.
China has found itself losing manufacturing facilities and investment in the country has slowed down,
Since 2019, it has faced stiff US sanctions which have been kept in place by the Biden administration which this year has moved to block the development of new computer chip technology in the Communist state.
Belt and Road is China’s calling card and one which aims to extend its power while also reaping huge profits from underdeveloped countries like Laos
The country’s much-vaunted Belt and Road initiative has seen tens of billions of dollars spent on infrastructure abroad accompanied by larger amounts of Chinese credit facilities that boost Chinese trade and in many instances are designed to profit the Communist Country by supporting Chinese exports and generating a return on capital.
The programme saw $20.3 billion invested in 2021 rising from $14.8 billion in 2015 across 57 countries.
This is small change compared to the larger levels of debt and profits created as part of such investments.
China has used its infrastructure funding to promote itself as another international world bank but with more onerous terms.
This has, in turn, contributed, in recent times, to financial crises in many countries such as Laos, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and countries across Africa.
Djibouti and Angola both have debt owed to China which is equivalent to 43% and 41% of their national income respectively while Laos, Thailand’s neighbour is currently at 30%.
China gets ownership control over strategically important assets across the world from Asia to the Caribbean, boosting its economic and military power
In many of the Belt and Road deals, there are agreements that give China leverage and possible options to take over ownership of key strategic assets.
An example of this is the recent high-speed railway in Laos which is already 70% Chinese-owned.
The growth and extent of this initiative which particularly targets Africa and now extends into adjacent Asian countries, Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific island countries raises serious questions about China’s global ambitions not only economically but militarily.
Significantly, Thailand, alone in Southeast Asia, has not cooperated to the same extent with Beijing on such projects despite talks and even contracts being signed while its neighbours such as Laos, Myanmar and particularly Cambodia have seen large debts ratcheted up and owing to Communist China.
Small change compared to China’s staggering property market which is facing a huge crisis
However, while these are large amounts of money, they are small change compared to the Communist country’s giant-sized property market which stands at twice the value of US debt at $60 trillion and is currently represented by widespread loan defaults, a standstill in construction in 115 muncipalities and millions of empty homes across empty cities with roads to nowhere built throughout the country.
The growing tensions between the United States and China can be seen from the results of a Gallup poll in 2022 which shows that 49% of Americans now see the country as the arch-foe of the United States, a figure which has climbed from 22% under the Biden administration which has unveiled, in its approach to Russia over the Ukraine war, a robust new framework for US foreign policy, one which has been taken up with alacrity by European countries and other western allies.
Tough and robust Biden Administration foreign policy is ‘walking the walk’ when it comes to powerful new political aspirations in western countries
The Biden administration’s foreign policy is significantly less ambiguous and more directly in line with the political thinking of younger generations who are no longer comfortable with realpolitik, something which has come as a shock and disturbance to diplomats in both authoritarian countries and in those, like Thailand, which are traditionally non-aligned.
The treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang province with up to 1.8 million people herded into concentration camps, stands out as a human rights abuse which has generated international attention and revulsion with China.
Similarly, its behaviour in Hong Kong where Beijing has reneged on its 1997 commitments under the treaty with the United Kingdom and its crackdown on democratic rights have made it a power that can no longer be trusted or with whom the West can do business with, in good faith.
This sense of shock was expressed by Thailand, last week, at the UN General Assembly when its delegation lamented the ‘politicisation of international principles’ which refers directly to this new robust approach from western countries.
It would be true to say that a new world, a divided one, is emerging from the Russian-Ukraine war and rising tensions between the United States and authoritarian regimes such as China.
A new wall dividing the world between democratic and authoritarian countries is currently being built
It may soon lead to another great curtain or wall dividing the world where democratic countries which stand for liberal human rights and personal freedoms will be cut off from those where authoritarianism holds sway.
This wall is currently being built on the foundations of the Russian-Ukraine war.
Such a world may be necessary to protect the capital markets as well as the rights of workers and consumers in democratic countries while making sure that never again will western capital be used to help build or prop up odious regimes like those in Moscow or Beijing as we have seen over the past three decades.
At the last great summit in Bangkok when Thailand hosted ASEAN and world leaders in 2019 in Nonthaburi, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres was prescient when he spoke of this newly emerging divided world.
‘I see now the concern emerging on the horizon, the possibility of a great fracture with the world’s largest economies splitting the globe into two, each with its own dominant currency, trade and financial rules, its own internet and artificial intelligence capacities and its own zero-sum geopolitical and military strategies,’ Mr Gutteres said nearly three years ago on the outskirts of the Thai capital.
The question that Thailand may soon be forced to answer is which side of the wall will it be on.